Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Octopus

On one of the more remote Mindanao islands of the Philippines there is a village by the sea. Far off the beaten track of civilization with very few visitors, island life in its purest form ebbs with the tides. The white coral sand beach lays contrast to the dark green palm leaves flickering in the breeze as a canopy over the land and this village. The village itself fragrant with plumeria and gardenia, swept clean with an ethnic standard, ‘Cleanliness in next to Godliness. Around this isle refreshed with this ocean breeze is an aqua blue green lagoon and jutting out here and there, as if to embrace the oceans depths, fingers of sand covered corals grown up and there now laid as an enduring embrace. Above all of this is a blue sky that is pure clean and clear. It is unlike any thing near a city. Once seen and looked at, you will always remember the difference.

A boy, brown skinned to almost dark chocolate, walks leisurely yet purposely from the village bare footed under the canopy of coconut trees along a wide sandy lane towards the ocean. The tide now is almost at its lowest. He is wearing a faded print swim shorts only. He is carrying in one hand what I call a Hawaiian sling. It is spear shaft of 6 feet held in a roughly warn wood cylinder to fit the palm. A hole runs through this wood cylinder of which the steel shaft fits. Rubber tubing attached to the cylinder fits in a nook at the back end of the spear shaft. An attached hinge at the front end of the wood cylinder acts as a stop to hold the spear in place. A simple instrument really, but quite effective.
The boy now strides down the embankment out from under the canopy of shaded green and at the shores edge in the deep white sand and into the low ankle deep water where he walks out toward the outer reef on one of these fingers of sand cover coral. A path he knows by heart.

After about 10 minutes he slows to a pace that allows him to walk with out sound through the water. Now he is looking, keen on every coral head and seaweed as he continues.
The fish that live here swim leisurely. They are not hunted by the boy. But they are always on the out look. Predators are never far away.
Finally he sees it as he was sure he would. The octopus. It is at some distance yet, but he can see its meticulous movement from one coral group to another. He can cut its’ exit to the lagoon if he can keep low enough. He moves in that direction. Bent over now to keep a low profile to the water the boy keeps an eye on the moving dark shadow as he covers the distance where he can cut off the escape. He is there now and he grows excited. It’s big. It will feed in abundance the whole family. The boy surveys the reef. The octopus is unaware of the boy as of yet. Once he spots the boy he will do everything to evade capture. The boy now waits, still keeping a low profile as the tide continues to wane watching minutely.

The octopus is hunting too and the boy with the lay of the area in front of him anticipates its direction. The boy repositions himself that now will assure his catch.
The tide now is low enough. Even the octopus senses it. The octopus is beginning to retreat to the lagoon, unknowingly coming directly towards the boy.
The boy jumps and splashes loudly. The octopus darts in an explosion of inky murk. He is running now to cross a gap. But the boy has already closed it off knowing it would be the instinctive reaction.
The octopus has no alternative. He must go shallower onto the reef and see if he can find a river let. He finds none. The boy is in hard pursuit pounding the water and sand covered reef in full pursuit. The octopus sees a large outgrowth of coral covered seaweed. It is his only salvation. He darts around and behind it pulling himself tight to its form. He listens. He looks. It is only ten feet wide. The boy is on the other side. Now it is quiet. The Octopus still with a firm hold on the coral moves off just enough to see the boy. The boy is coming around. The octopus darts towards the boy sprays his inky murk as he reverses around the coral. The boy fires his sling but to no avail. Now on this nearly dry reef condition the octopus must fly toward the lagoon. The boy is coming hard. It is the boy’s territory, the dry land. The octopus is swimming were he can and crawling across the sand and coral were he must. How far to the lagoon? It is there. He must make it. The octopus is now weaving through the coral covered seaweed and crawling over jagged coral out crops. How can he impede the boy’s progress? The boy has turned away and is now running along side and over taking him again. The octopus finds a river let and now can really run. He is flying toward the lagoon. The boy twenty paces to his right. The water is deepening finally. The octopus is nearly exhausted and the lagoon is still at some distance. Will the boy tire? He is still running strong and now he is closing the distance. Finally the lagoon!

Then the Octopus sees it. ‘Oh no! Maku! The shark!’ Open sandy bottom. No place to hide. No escape! The shark sees me. I am doomed! The shark is coming! The octopus leaps back and is at the boy’s feet. He looks up. The boy is looking down at him and then at the shark. The shark stops 10 feet away. It is too shallow for the shark to come any closer and the boy there is with spear. The shark won’t come into the shallows with the boy and spear. He is hovering, waiting. Moving back and forth. Teeth bared in striking position.
The boy is looking at the shark. He raises the spear slowly taking aim at the shark and fakes a throw. The shark is gone. It is suddenly very quiet.

Now the boy looks down at the octopus.

I am here boy. I am yours if you must. The boy stares down at the octopus. The octopus is looking at him. Neither of them is moving. Finally the boy moves his free hand and arm in some gesture, and turns and walks away not looking back.

The octopus looks at the boy moving away until he no longer can see him. He turns again to the open lagoon. He moves off to the coral reef and is gone.

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